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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Penn State

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

It’s the 12th and final regular season game of the 2021 season for the Michigan State Spartans, as MSU hosts Pennsylvania State University on Saturday. Head coach Mel Tucker doesn’t find value in public depth charts, so by using previous games and reports about the roster, I will make my best guess at the starters and reserves.

Disclaimer: In addition to several injuries, it appears the flu bug has also hit Michigan State, and it’s probable some of the below depth chart predictions are affected by this bug.

Quarterback

Starter: Payton Thorne

Backup: Anthony Russo

Thorne had a rough game versus the Ohio State Buckeyes — as did the entire team. Thorne could still achieve the Michigan State record for touchdown passes and account for the most touchdowns responsible for in a season.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Running Back

Starter: Kenneth Walker III

Backup: Jordon Simmons, Harold Joiner, Elijah Collins

Walker had a quiet last outing, few opportunities and an ankle issue essentially ended his Heisman Trophy campaign. MSU could really use a strong ground game against the Nittany Lions to help out the offense and to limit field time for a reeling defense.

Simmons hit a couple openings, but also fumbled during a run, which only threw gas on what was a raging fire. Joiner hasn’t found much in the run game this season, but comes in on passing downs and receives a couple opportunities per game, though Collins looks healthy and seems to have better vision than the other reserve running backs.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Wide Receivers

Starters: Tre Mosley, Montorie Foster and Keon Coleman

Backups: Terry Lockett, Christian Fitzpatrick

Soooo... Jalen Nailor is probably out due to a broken hand or fingers. Jayden Reed sustained a foot/ankle injury in the Ohio State game and was last seen in a walking boot. Not good.

It’s pretty safe to say Mosley and Foster will be the starters, and if the Spartans go with three-wide receivers, Keon Coleman will be the third member of the group. Coleman caught his first touchdown pass during the rout by the Buckeyes last week.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Tight End/H-Back

Starter: Connor Heyward

Backup: Tyler Hunt, Maliq Carr

In all likelihood, the Spartans will often feature a two-tight end set with Heyward, Hunt and Maliq Carr rotating duties. Heyward received an invite to the Senior Bowl and will not be using his sixth and final year of eligibility, and shall instead seek to play in the NFL as his brother and father have.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Left Tackle

Starter: AJ Arcuri

Backup: Luke Campbell, Dan VanOpstall

It’s hard to take many things away from the last game due to the circumstances. It’s the last regular season game and I would guess the staff will remain consistent with the personnel. Just a quick note, Kevin Jarvis was named one of the captains this week and Jarvis was listed as a graduate senior. Jarvis does have a season of eligibility remaining, however this is his fifth year in East Lansing, and all signs point to Jarvis turning the page on his time at Michigan State. Jarrett Horst likely remains out for undisclosed reasons.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Left Guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Nick Samac, Jacob Isaia

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Center

Starter: Matt Allen

Backup: Nick Samac

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 Michigan State at Indiana Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right Guard

Starter: Blake Bueter

Backup: Nick Samac, James Ohonba

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right Tackle

Starter: Kevin Jarvis

Backup: Luke Campbell, Spencer Brown

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Michigan State at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive Tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade and Maverick Hansen

Backup: Simeon Barrow, Dashaun Mallory, Jalen Hunt and Kyle King

Until we see otherwise, expect Slade and Hansen as the interior line defenders. Barrow has not played since he was disqualified for targeting against Purdue. Mallory has been the primary backup along with Hunt, who has never really had the presence many predicted this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Michigan State at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive Ends

Starters: Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley

Backup: Jeff Pietrowski, Drew Jordan

Nothing has changed of late for the defensive ends, but perhaps another player is inserted into the group to get a little more pass rush against a PSU team that may be playing a physically compromised quarterback or a true freshman quarterback.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Michigan State at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Linebackers

Starters: Quavaris Crouch and Cal Haladay

Backups: Noah Harvey, Ben VanSumeren, Ma’a Gaoteote

Crouch was last seen sparingly playing, and with a bulky knee brace, against Ohio State. Haladay continues to grind it out with a club on his hand. Harvey was injured during the game, the severity of his injury is unknown, but it’s a good guess Ben VanSumeren and Ma’a Gaoteote will see more repetitions than previous.

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Cornerbacks

Starters: Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough

Backups: Marqui Lowery, Justin White, Antoine Booth

Do you have eligibility? Can you run quickly with fluid hips? The cornerback situation is difficult, attrition has made circumstances rather dire for a group that has been targeted for massive yardage for most of the season. Perhaps this is the point that we see true freshman Antoine Booth make his career debut.

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Nickelback

Starter: Darius Snow

Backup: Michael Dowell

Snow has had an active and promising second half of the season as the nickel. Dowell will also see snaps at the position unless he is required to assume the duties of safety.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Safeties

Starters: Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose

Backups: Michael Dowell, Emmanuel Flowers, Kendell Brooks

I think Henderson was not made available the second half of the game against Ohio State for precautionary reasons, but he is the most important player to this defense. If Henderson is not able to participate, Michael Dowell is the odds on favorite to play safety opposite Grose. Flowers and perhaps Brooks will be needed to see the field in reserve roles.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Special Teams

Placekicker

Starter: Matt Coghlin

Backup: Stephen Rusnak

Coghlin is hopefully now able to resume all of the his duties, otherwise it possible the Spartans will decline to kick any field goals of any length and take their shots at the end zone. If Coghlin is not a full go, Rusnak will be called upon as the next man up for kicking responsibilities.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 Michigan State at Indiana Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Punter

Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Cody Waddell

Baringer, inexplicably, was not named a finalist for the Ray Guy Award as the college punter of the year. Regardless, he’s had a commendable campaign which no one expected.

Punt/Kick Returner

Starter: Cade McDonald

Backup: Montorie Foster, Connor Heyward, Justin White

Cade McDonald is sure-handed and finished the game as the returner after Reed left the game. If MSU seeks a more explosive option, do not be surprised to see White returning kicks and punts, as he was one of the best special teams players in Division II in 2019.

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Long Snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper

Backup: Michael Donovan

True freshman Hank Pepper continues to be responsible for the long snapping duties.